An excerpt from Laughing Africa
Nights in the barn, the clean astringence of urine
steaming into the tendrils of a dungfire, the cattle
sleeping their own way, and me mine, despite the puppies
tied to the housepost, their lean mother snapping, the only window
stuffed with straw. To keep out snakes?
No. Reic shifts at watch.
To block the cuckold’s spear from the lover’s heart.
But once I hear low-flying planes and once a helicopter
comes chop-chopping over this basket of a barn
and Reic lifts his ancient rifle, practically
a blunderbuss, and says, Of course bullets come right through.
I imagine seeing his wife’s breast bleed as she runs,
the wisps of straw catching fire, the lover, Reic,
his children running slant into the suddenly windy savannah.
There is this laugh that Reic makes, the time he finds
a guerrilla stuffed inside a dead cow. How could you do this?
he laughs, I have so many to feed. Couldn’t you hide
behind some bush instead of the stomach of my cow?
And then he roars, and the strength of it is the measure
of his misfortune. Today Reic and all the people who fed me
are starving, the last Red Cross plane just now downed,
every passenger shot. But what’s two million Sudanese?
Nothing to you. To me, it’s Reic’s clasp multiplied —
not diminished to facelessness, or the archetype of a Grimm tale.
It’s Nyapuok rubbing her back with sand, Nyabel grinding grain,
sinuous against rock and water, little Lam checking my breasts
for color, Pel singing to his sister, and that laugh,
that laugh. True, they only fed me once a day,
but it was their only meal. And even if it were the last
fowl beaten from the bush by a string of hungry children,
I ate it, my hunger the first inescapable experience
I’d ever had, mine and no other’s. I sucked the stones
of the tamarind and felt lucky, and the touch of malaria
that shook the food on my spoon, and the diarrhea
turned dysentery that drove me away, with excuses, midmeal,
and whatever it was that hurt the gut even when I did eat
(was it worms? the kind you sugar a cut for so they come
crawling out of the wound?) were only the discomforts
of the initiate, the stupid. What kind of snake was it?
I point to the black foot of a man already black.
Not poisonous, he says, limping into the sunset,
if I live till morning. And he laughs, walking into
a bloody horizon clean of everything, even the stumps of trees,
and it is not that he dies but that his figure grows smaller.
The Greeks were almost African.
This selection comes from Terese Svoboda’s upcoming collection, When The Next Big War Blows Down the Valley, available November 1st, 2015, from Anhinga Press. Pre-order your copy here!
A 2013 Guggenheim Fellow in fiction, Terese Svoboda is the author of six novels, five books of poetry, an award-winning memoir and a book of translation from the Nuer. She is very lucky to have When the Next Big War Blows Down the Valley: Selected and New Poems 1985-2015 appear in November 2015 and Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet in January 2016.
Jacob L. Cross lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He studied creative writing and publishing at the University of Illinois Springfield, where he served as editor of The Popcorn Farm Literary Journal. His work has been featured in Still: The Journal, The Alchemist Review, and elsewhere. More recently, his poems are due for release in Clash by Night, a poetry anthology inspired by the punk staple, London Calling. He enjoys hiking with his wife, traversing Zelda dungeons, spoiling his dogs, and half-priced sushi.